Relationships and Leadership

by Kevin Cottrell


When I was leaving Berlin, I was chatting with one of our hosts about how grateful I was for the GMF Fellowship. I described it as a chance of a lifetime. She smiled, graciously accepted the compliments, but added that the true test would be when the experience would settle in more deeply and “move from your head and into your bones.” At first, I was not certain about what the analogy meant. Now I’m beginning to understand.Since my return at the end of June, news about Europe has a new or refreshed meaning. A few items in particular have been more meaningful and insightful as they touch upon places we visited and the issues engaged and debated:


  • Iran’s test of its medium- and long-range missile in early July sparked outcry in the midst of the G8 Summit. European concerns on the “rise of Iran” were addressed in our meeting with members of the E.U. Parliament, including Parliament Member Paolo Casaca of Portugal (pictured below, second from right). Casaca is a member of the E.U. Delegation for Relations with Iran.



  • In Turkey, the latest internal security struggles and the Turkish Supreme Court decision on its ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), sparked initially by AKP efforts to lift the headscarf ban in secular Turkey.


  • The capture of Radovan Karadzic in Serbia and his extradition to the Hague to face the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).


  • The U.S. presidential race, when the foreign policy debate between candidates Obama and McCain was magnified by their tours abroad as well as Obama’s speech in Tiergarten Park which drew more than 200,000 Berliners.


The news feels different. Perhaps it was because as I hear or read the news, I also think of my time in Europe. I tend to think the Fellowship is more meaningful for me because of the personal relationships that were developed. My thoughts turn to how Europeans are both reporting and reacting to these issues. The experience has seeped into my bones. Feelings are now playing a role.

As leaders, we are bombarded with media and internet information about our communities, our economy and our world. Relationships help to provide a context to this information; we all know it is easier to verify information from a trusted relationship. It is reassuring. Perhaps the greatest lesson for me is a new appreciation of formal and informal access to information about the world.

The best news, however, is that through this experience, new opportunities to build relationships have already emerged. I am continuing to host visiting European fellows, Los Angeles will play host to the American Marshall Forum in late September 2008, and I will travel to Copenhagen in October for the European Marshall Forum in late October 2008.

In moving forward, the Southern California Leadership Network will continue this blog, with some exciting changes in store. In the coming month we will be moving to a new format that will provide reflections on cutting-edge leadership themes and commentary on community leadership issues with guest bloggers, incorporating podcasting and interactivity. We hope you will stay tuned for these enhancements.

Kevin Cottrell is Executive Director of the Southern California Leadership Network, blogging from his fellowship with the German Marshall Fund in Europe.